Identical twin thieves were sentenced Friday to prison for scamming more than $2 million from dozens of people by promising can't-lose investments that lost big, and then concocting phony profits to conceal the truth.
Makara Nkhereanye wept profusely and expressed "gut-wrenching" remorse as he and his brother, Tsele, were sentenced to 3½ to 10½ years behind bars, defense lawyer Anastasios Sarikas said. The range reflects the possibility of time off for good behavior.
The 39-year-old twins, who had elite education at top universities, pleaded guilty last month to grand larceny and other charges.
They "passed themselves off as financial pros, when in reality they were far from it," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said. "When the victims began to sense that something was wrong, the Nkhereanye brothers went to great lengths to cover their tracks."
Sarikas, who represents Makara Nkhereanye, said the scheme was the brothers' attempt to buy time for a hoped-for turnaround after their investments went bad. They soon found themselves "trapped in their own lie," he said.
"They started out not intending to hurt anyone," Sarikas said after the sentencing. "It's just that they were really lousy at what they were doing."
Tsele Nkhereanye's lawyer didn't immediately return a call.
Born in Daly City., Calif., to parents from the southern African nation of Lesotho, the twins grew up in New York City and went on to top colleges: Makara to Princeton University and Tsele to Stanford University, according to prosecutors and defense lawyers.
They got into stock trading by investing — and losing — their mother's $185,000 retirement fund in the 1990s, prosecutors and defense lawyers said.
Holding themselves out as successful stock traders, they later went on to promise some 40 victims high profits and guarantee they wouldn't lose money — but then did, prosecutors said.
The twins hid the losses by crafting false reports and using victims' original investments to pay bogus profits, prosecutors said. The brothers also paid their own rent and bills with investors' cash, according to prosecutors.
Some victims ultimately got some money back in the cash shuffle, but the brothers still owe more than $1.7 million in restitution, prosecutors said.